Quentin Knight

Quentin Knight shines as a senior running back/linebacker for Clay Central.

Editor's note: With four coverage-area teams playing in the Super 7 this week in Auburn, this is the second in a series of Joe Medley pieces that highlight special players from Clay Central, Jacksonville, Oxford and Piedmont who will represent the 256 area code on the state’s biggest stage. Today: Clay Central’s Quentin Knight. Click here to read about other Vols to watch.

It’s not hard to identify the players Danny Horn sees as his best. As a season rounds to postseason, they come off the field less and less.

Meet Quentin Knight, one of those guys who finds himself on the field more and more, as his Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame coach gets closer to another championship.

The senior running back with increased load at linebacker figures big in Clay Central’s state championship game Thursday. The Vols will play Pleasant Grove at 7 p.m. for the Class 5A title, potentially Horn’s eighth state title.

Knight’s and Clay Central’s big chance comes amid a rush of teams from the 256 area code getting that same chance. Six will play in Super 7 games. Besides Clay Central, three more will represent The Anniston Star’s coverage area … Oxford in 6A, Jacksonville in 4A and Piedmont in 3A.

Calhoun County’s three-team representation in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s championship round for football marks the most ever.

The big stage means big exposure for all involved, and Knight comes with a history of performing on this stage. His 1-yard touchdown run with 43 seconds left pushed Clay Central over the top in a 43-42 victory over Vigor in last year’s 5A final.

Knight also caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Boyd Ogles to give the Vols a 36-30 lead and ran for a 5-yard score.

Knight has done it on the big stage. Only thing, one of his teammates did it bigger a year ago. Game most valuable player Shamari Simmons, son of Clay County great Stanford Simmons, caught six passes for 102 yards, including a 17-yarder on fourth-and-10 from the Vigor 18-yard line to set up Knight’s winning touchdown.

Simmons was one of four all-state players to graduate. Knight, a second-team pick, was the lone all-state Vol to return.

He finished 2018 with more than 1,600 yards. This season, he’s rushed for 2,123 and 29 touchdowns. Add three more receiving touchdowns.

“He’s as good a back as I’ve ever had,” said Horn, eyeing the final game of his 31st season.

Think about what a good back to Horn looks like. He likes a back with 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash, but he’s gotten a lot of mileage out of 4.7 guys like Knight.

On a team with all-state-quality offensive linemen like Drew Lightsey, Hugo Sandoval and Micah Harris, Horn needs a Knight … a back with field vision to see the holes, the ability to hit the holes then get tough yards.

Knight has done it for two years.

“He works hard at getting better,” Horn said. “He’s strong and works hard in the weight room. He’s the kind of kid that you love to be around. He’s a winner.”

Which is precisely why Horn wants Knight on the field more when the games mean more. A lot of the same qualities that make Knight able to see holes and hit them helps him to see plays develop and jam holes.

It’s standard-operating procedure with Horn-coached teams, but Knight has practiced at outside linebacker all season. Knight started seeing his most extended action there in the quarterfinals and semifinals, victories over Madison County and Mortimer Jordan.

“He’s done really well,” Horn said. “He went in their last year in state-championship game, not having played defense at all. Especially in that last drive, I think he made two tackles.

“He’s just a good athlete.”

And just as likely to show out on the big stage at linebacker as running back Thursday in Auburn.

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.